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Senegal’s Aliou Cissé on World Cup Hopes and How FIFA Slights Africa

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DIAMNIADIO, Senegal — Ask those that have watched Aliou Cissé take Senegal to 2 World Cups in a row and direct his team to a victory within the Africa Cup of Nations in February, and they’ll let you know that his country’s wealth of soccer talent is barely one a part of the rationale.

There’s something more tedious, more long-term, but way more transformative that Cissé, the 46-year-old former Paris St.-Germain midfielder and former Senegal captain, has dropped at his squad since he became its coach in 2015.

“He has turned Senegal right into a real skilled team, which it wasn’t before,” said Saer Seck, an administrator who led Senegal’s delegation to the last World Cup, in Russia in 2018.

Most African teams don’t have the resources of their European or Latin American counterparts. But in recent times, Cissé has brought some structure and consistency to the national team, Seck said. He has made sure, as an example, that each one players arrive in Senegal on the identical day each time they’re scheduled to play a global game — a small detail that wasn’t at all times the case before he took charge.

“When my guys leave Europe to play with us, they need a while to adapt and shift their mind-set,” Cissé told The Recent York Times in an interview earlier this yr. “It’s somewhat festive,” he said of life for those returning home. “So we’ve got to inform them, ‘Hey, yes, life is good in Senegal, sea and sun, etc., but you’re not on vacation. It’s the identical intensity here.’”

And that, he said, “is where this team has made loads of progress.”

The team now travels in private jets and with cops, a novelty. Its players sleep in higher beds, stay in higher hotels, and head to training and matches in buses and planes that depart on time. None of those things — all common on the European clubs where a lot of the players spend the majority of their time — were a given within the national team’s recent past, or for much of Africa.

Whether that will probably be enough for Senegal, the African champion, to interrupt through on the World Cup is one other query. Only three African teams have ever reached the semifinals on the World Cup, and just one (Ghana in 2010) has advanced that far since a Cissé-led Senegal achieved the feat in 2002. Senegal will face the Netherlands on Monday in its opening game.

After Senegal earned its qualification in March, Cissé sat down with The Recent York Times to debate his team’s possibilities, the limited variety of World Cup places for African teams and where African soccer is headed.

This conversation has been edited and condensed, and took place before Senegal’s best player, Sadio Mané, was injured on the eve of the World Cup.

What are your ambitions for this World Cup?

Just a few editions ago, we went to the World Cup to find the competition. Then, we were there to learn. Now, we’re here to compete. African teams are going to Qatar to win. After I have a look at my midfielders, my defenders, my goalkeeper, I actually have nothing to envy to, say, France or Spain. Kalidou Koulibaly is as priceless as Marquinhos for Brazil or John Stones for England. Hugo Lloris isn’t higher than Édouard Mendy. That’s the type of confidence I need my players to have. I need them to inform themselves that if France can win, why not us?

African teams have struggled in recent World Cups. Why is that?

The more you’re there, the more possibilities you will have to go all of the solution to victory. In Africa, we’re 54 countries, and we will only have five teams qualify. While Europe has 13.

What matters within the World Cup is experience. To win it, you could participate many times. But how do you would like to have experience in case you go to the World Cup every 20 years? It bothers me to listen to that African teams haven’t had their breakthrough once we have a look at the African qualifiers.

It’s worse than martial arts. It’s like throwing a bone in the course of a bunch of dogs: What do you think that the dogs that get out of the fight will appear like? These are the difficulties on the African continent: the number and the standard of opponents you have to get past to make it to the World Cup.

I could provide you with the names of 10 teams that will all give you the chance to represent Africa, and that top five is best than the underside five of European teams. Think Senegal, Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Nigeria, Ghana, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, South Africa. …

The more of us that go, the more we are going to exist.

Should FIFA reduce the variety of places that go to European teams?

I don’t know, but we will’t keep going with a continent like Africa that represents a lot for global soccer and only has five spots.

We exist. We have now great players. We have now contributed to the event of soccer. We should always give you the chance to play our part. Give us the likelihood to exist, and we’ll have more possibilities to go to the semis, the ultimate, and to win.

You’ve been the coach for seven years, an exception in Africa that many say is mandatory to take a national team to recent heights as you’ve done. Why you?

From 2002 to 2015, not one coach stayed for greater than two years in Senegal. How do you would like to accomplish anything? It’s not possible, and our leaders had to know it. They did with me.

After I took over the team in 2015, people were asking: “Why are you giving him the team? He has no experience.” But I knew the expectations and the fact of this national team.

I used to be captain of this team. Then I got my coaching diplomas. Then you have to construct a team, a bunch, with motivated, patriotic players, who don’t fake it with regards to bringing joy to their country. With years, you develop into more confident in what you do, and also you learn find out how to manage the more uncertain moments.

I expect my players to take the country forward since the expectations are high. We have now great players who can beat the very best teams. But we even have a bunch. Everyone fights to get the ball back. Whether Sadio Mané is on the attack or defends, he spends all of it on the pitch. That’s because we wish to perform something big.

What has modified between the Senegalese national team you captained on the 2002 World Cup and the one you’re now coaching?

The mind-set. In Senegal, we used to have fan clubs cheering for one player or one other: one for El Hadji Diouf, one for Aliou Cissé. Today, people come to observe a team. Our players wear the national jersey. They’re proud to be Senegalese, proud to be African.

With regards to our fighting spirit, dedication and love for his or her country, this team is an example. I’m proud to say that folks recognize themselves on this team.

What’s tricky, and what people sometimes forget, is that unlike in a club, we don’t have much time. People think that national teams can play like Real Madrid, Barça or P.S.G., but we simply don’t have the time to coach toward that level. Every game is decisive. That you must win to maintain hoping, while in a club you may lose one game and get back on course the next week.

With the national team, I expect more commitment from our players due to that. As a player it’s possible you’ll wear 4, five, six jerseys in your profession, but you’ll at all times have one national team.

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